SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Right-handed relief pitcher Tyler Kinley has a slider that turns the heads of managers and makes hitters shake their heads. It’s a pitch that Kinley is confident will lead to success. The Rockies are the third team to hope to benefit.
The Rockies claimed Kinley, 29, off waivers from the Marlins after he went 3-1 with a 3.65 ERA in a career-high 52 games in 2019 and made nine appearances with a 7.04 ERA the previous year. He appeared in four games with the Twins as a Rule 5 Draft pick in 2018 before being returned to Miami.
A key reason the Rockies grabbed Kinley after the Marlins, who are leaning on the experience of Brandon Kintzler, Brad Boxberger and Yimi García, made him available? Last season, the site MLB Quality of Pitch -- which uses data such as Statcast to calculate a quality-of-pitch metric -- rated Kinley’s slider as fourth-best among pitchers who threw at least 400 of them.
"I think it's my strength as a pitcher, and I think it's going to be my best asset to us,” Kinley said.
The Rockies have been criticized for not obtaining a Major League player through a trade or free agency. But Kinley is the latest in a nearly year-long project to seek undervalued pitchers as Colorado transitions to a low-cost bullpen.
Since last spring, the Rockies have traded for left-handers Phillip Diehl (Yankees) and James Pazos (Phillies) and right-hander Joe Harvey (Yankees), and they've claimed righty Wes Parsons (Braves) and Kinley off waivers. They also signed lefty Tim Collins (Cubs) to a Minor League contract. With Collins, Harvey and Parsons in camp as non-roster invitees, and with the rest having options (meaning they can be sent to the Minors without being exposed to other clubs via waivers), there is an opportunity to maintain relief depth.
But frontline quality is what the Rockies seek, much the way Pazos demonstrated with his 1.74 ERA in 12 games late last season. Kinley has a pitch that just might give it to them.
“The Marlins have always had, over the last number of years, some good arms out in their bullpen,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “Kinley, I remember the really good slider and ... the mid-90s fastball and good stuff. So when he became available, I think our scouts sort of saw that, you know, maybe a potential opportunity to grab him.”
Hitters did better against Kinley’s fastball (a .453 slugging percentage) than his slider (.292 SLG). But if the fastball can become a greater weapon, Kinley could blossom.
Kinley was a shortstop and catcher who battled injuries before transitioning to pitching at Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla. He took to the slider naturally.
“The biggest thing I learned once I got to the Major Leagues, with my slider being my best pitch, is I need to be as efficient with my fastball as I can, to play off my slider,” Kinley said.
The position of your dreams
Garrett Hampson was a shortstop in college and moved around the infield for much of his pro career -- until the Rockies added outfield to his duties, starting with nine games in center field in the Minor Leagues and one in the Majors in 2018. Last season, he made 31 appearances in center and looked like a natural.
It raises the question: Is he an infielder who plays some outfield, or has he accepted both sets of duties?
“I dream about all of them,” Hampson said, smiling. “I'll just say that I think I can play this game for a long time, play different positions and bring that to the team.”
Arenado leads three in Top 100
Third baseman Nolan Arenado was ranked ninth on MLB Network’s yearly Top 100 Players Right Now -- one spot ahead of Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and one behind Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom. Also, Rockies shortstop Trevor Story was ranked 21st and outfielder Charlie Blackmon 85th.